Death in the Desert, On the Road with Steve the Builder
Steve Robinson · May 21, 2009
This is the second podcast of a series recorded while travelling through the deserts of Arizona and Nevada to St. John's Monastery. Something caught my eye and I stopped.
This is what I found about 80 miles from civilization.
I just pulled over to the side of the road. I was driving along, [and] I was somewhere between Hawthorne and some little burned-out ghost town, probably about 40 miles from anywhere in either direction. I saw this little roadside grave, and this one looks really old. There’s a white cross made out of two pieces of steel, and there’s four stakes, probably six or eight feet apart, that form a little quadrant, a little square around the gravesite. Then there’s some rocks on top of it. There’s a piece of rebar stuck off to the side of the wooden headstone.
I’m walking around to the back here, and the headstone is a piece of probably four-by-twelve. It’s pretty weathered. The cross is attached to the front of it with some wire stuck into the ground, but on the back of it, there’s some carved out Chinese letters that have been painted white inside the letters. I’m going to take a picture of this and put it up on my blog. There’s a white stone at the base of the headstone where the lettering is on the back side. I don’t know if this is significant of the white stone in Revelation that’s given to those who’ve died in faith, but obviously this grave has been here for a long, long time and probably has not been visited or tended for ages and ages.
I wonder what happened here. It’s on one of these long, long stretches of highway that goes on forever and ever. It makes you wonder who this was and where they were going and whom they were with or whom they were on their way to be with. You see these little markers along the way here that make us remember that we’re mortal, that in the twinkling of an eye, our lives and everything about them can just be snuffed out.
I see all these people just driving by. Some of them are kind of looking at me, wondering what it is I’m doing out here. I wonder if they’re thinking maybe I’m related to this person or if I’m just some kind of a nutcase that likes visiting roadside memorials, but when they get a couple miles up the road, I wonder if they’re even going to think about the possibility that they could be memorialized by the side of this road in a heartbeat.
One of the beauties of Orthodoxy is that even though I have no clue who this person is and who they were and what their life was about or when they died or how they died, I can still offer up a prayer for God to have mercy on their soul.
I’m looking a little closer at the gravesite here, and there’s spiderwebs strung between the rocks. There’s a little hole down here. It looks like probably a tarantula lives in it. The ribbons that were tied to the stake of the piece of rebar look like maybe there was some flowers at one time attached to this. They’re all faded out.
I have some candle stubs from our mission that I’m taking to St. John’s Monastery to turn in for recycling. I think I’m going to get one out of the bag here and put it over here. There’s a nice little place for it here among the rocks that are holding up the cross. May God have mercy on the soul of whoever it is who is memorialized here. Grant them rest, peace, and a defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ in that day.
I just came from a ghost town. It looked like a little roadside garage, grocery store, a little bar, couple of houses, and what looked like some cheap hotels. This old guy in some old pickup hauling a trailer had stopped, and I was talking to him. He said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, this thing’s been gone for over 30 years now.” I wandered around the buildings, and I looked inside, and I took some pictures, and those will be posted up on my blog.
It’s interesting, because you look at all of the things that are left behind that were obviously important to people and were part of people’s lives and part of their families, part of their journeys, part of what formed them, and you wonder what kind of struggles, what kind of crises, what kinds of joys and sorrows, and what kind of love they had for the people that shared this space with them, and all of the travelers that were going someplace and stopped there and rented these little cheap motel rooms, what their lives were about.
Then you come across the roadside grave, and this is really the end of the journey. This is really where it all stops, but it’s not where it stops. It’s not where it completely ends, because, as we pray at the funeral, we ask, “May their memory be eternal.” And we read in the Old Testament where, when the patriarchs died—Moses and Joseph and Jacob, Isaac—the Scripture says they were buried and they were gathered to their people. You look at this little roadside grave, and you wonder whom this person was gathered to. Obviously they cared enough about whoever it was to build a roadside memorial, and maybe that in itself is enough, because there’s always going to be some oddball person like me who just might stop and just might wonder, and in just wondering who it was, I’ve made a connection with that person and with the people that they shared and with the love that they shared with everybody who went before them and everybody that will come after them. And you who are listening to this are now connected with them also.
In the grand scheme of the universe, all of this will be summed up in Christ. All of it is summed up in Christ. He is the thing that binds everything together. Colossians talks about creation being through him and for him and in him, and in him all things hold together. Somehow, in some mystical way, this person who is memorialized here with a few stones and a crude cross made out of a couple sticks of metal and a headstone cut out of a piece of scrap lumber is part of who everybody is and who everybody was and who everybody will be.
I read somewhere the other day that someone said, “It’s never too late to start filling up your obituary.” In one way, that’s a comedian’s way of saying that we need to be in constant remembrance of death. We need to be in a constant remembrance of the fact that, someday, someone who knows us—and hopefully someone who loves us—is going to write our obituary, and they’re going to plant a memorial. And years and years and perhaps even centuries down the line, what we did and who we were and how we lived may have brought an impact on the entire universe, because in reality, we all live in a connection to Adam and Eve. We all in the connection to Abraham. We all live in a connection to Samuel, to David, to Mary, and ultimately to Christ.
Well, it’s time for me to get back on the road. I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, so I’m going to close this one down, and I’ll pick this back up when something else interesting catches my eye on the road. This is Steve. Thanks for riding with me.